Memo to Members

A regular update to RIBA Members from President, Simon Allford.

30 November 2022

Simon Allford’s Biennial Action Plan Update – from the desk of the RIBA President  - Wednesday 30 November

Dear Members,  

I’m Simon Allford, RIBA President.   

I’ve had the pleasure and responsibility of this role for just over a year and have the best part of another one to go, before I hand on the baton to Muyiwa Oki.   

It feels like a good time to reflect on the progress that has been made, and what is yet to come.   

Simon Allford, RIBA President

Hopefully, you will have seen a recent update from the Chair of the RIBA Board, Jack Pringle. The RIBA Board - in case you are unclear - is a collective of 12 trustees. They are a mix of expert members, including architects and representatives from the RIBA Council, and external specialists from the fields of finance, HR, culture, technology and IT.  Our Trustees are directly appointed by the RIBA Council – your elected representatives – and are responsible for the management of RIBA’s business.   

Around this time last year, I set out my presidential priorities in a ten-point plan. We have refined this and published a ten-point Biennial Action Plan 2022-23 endorsed by RIBA Council and Board. This key document sets out the focus for the organisation during my presidency. These areas include giving proper emphasis and resources to the issues that matter most to our members: Access to Architecture, addressing PII and carbon, increasing membership engagement, and making sure our institute is in the right shape to deliver what our members and society need now, and in the future.   

COP27 

Firstly, I’d like to focus on the biggest issue of our time: the climate emergency.  I write this message following the conclusion of COP27, the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt. It is with regret that I was not able to attend this year’s event due to a family bereavement. However, RIBA representatives have used this influential platform to discuss the vital role architects play in addressing the climate emergency, emphasizing the importance of low energy buildings and the significance of retrofitting existing stock. More specifically, the co-chair of RIBA’s Climate Task & Finish Group, Duncan Baker-Brown engaged in panel discussions on mobilising ambition loops (positive feedback loops in which private sector leadership and Government policies positively reinforce each other) to decarbonise the built environment while RIBA sustainability expert member, Smith Mordak, discussed implementable solutions to reducing whole life carbon emissions. You can read more about our work at this significant event on our website here. In addition to our constructive lobbying and liaising at COP27, we are working hard to reduce our own carbon footprint, for example by bringing staff, members and the public together at our headquarters and consequently reducing our property footprint.  

I look forward to incorporating the discussions and key takeaways from COP27 in forthcoming RIBA initiatives and activities. This month, we opened our latest exhibition in the Architecture Gallery at 66 Portland Place; Long Life, Low Energy: Designing for a circular economy. The exhibition shows how the principles of the circular economy can help create more sustainable, net zero architecture for the future.   

Net Zero Carbon Building Standard  

On this theme, the RIBA is working with leading industry bodies to develop a UK Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard that will enable industry to robustly prove their built assets are net zero carbon and in line with our nation’s climate targets. The Standard, to be launched in 2023, will set out the metrics by which net zero carbon performance is evaluated, as well as performance targets, and limits, that need to be met for energy use, upfront embodied carbon, and lifecycle embodied carbon. It will also cover the approach to carbon accounting, procuring renewable energy, and the treatment of residual emissions, including carbon ‘offsetting’. Supporting this standard measurement process, we need up-to-date accessible data and so we are also working on the development of a single, free to use Built Environment Carbon Database with many of the same institutions. The consortia are now calling on UK built environment industry practitioners to share embodied carbon and in-use operational energy performance data for their buildings.   

Awards Programme 

We recently launched the new Reinvention Award to celebrate the reuse of new buildings. As architects, we have a responsibility to mitigate the impact of our work on the planet, so I am delighted to initiate an award which champions the creative transformation of an existing building and thus makes a vital contribution to environmental, social and economic sustainability. The recipient of the inaugural award will be announced in October 2023 alongside the Stirling Prize winner. Further updates to the awards programme include revised criteria for the Stephen Lawrence Prize: from 2023, the award will celebrate new talent by exclusively recognising projects led by an early career architect, typically someone who has qualified within five years prior to the project’s completion date. Previously, the prize was awarded to the best projects with a construction budget of less than £1 million. This new approach further supports our commitment to creating opportunities for the next generation and to drive inclusion and diversity.  

Professional Indemnity Insurance 

Elsewhere, we have set up a RIBA Council-led expert advisory group (EAG) to address PII (Professional Indemnity Insurance). Working with insurance industry experts, the RIBA is committed to taking a lead on this issue within the construction industry for the benefit of our members and the wider architectural profession, but it’s equally important to the public interest. This work is in progress and strongly evidence based. We’ve analysed the findings of the members’ survey we ran in the summer, along with data from the RIBA Business Benchmarking report to give us a detailed, robust picture of the current market, covering levels of premiums, excess and policy exclusions. We’re using this data in our discussions with the insurance market. We are focused on short and medium-term improvements and longer-term resilience and protection for architects.  We expect to see recommendations emerging from this work in early 2023 and implementation to follow in the remainder of the year.   

We are working hard to make sure we listen and represent the views and concerns of our members on all the top tables.  I know our members highly value the influencing work we do on your behalf. We are consistently and frequently engaging with the government to provide evidence and intelligence through these turbulent times. We have also started engaging with Architects – including many RIBA members - working within government to work out how we can help their initiatives by harnessing the talents of our members.  Please do note, your weekly Member Update brings you the latest news about our meetings and successes (as well as the challenges!) in championing your interests.   

Recently, I’ve welcomed the Chancellor’s statement that we must improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. However, for the people and economy to adequately benefit from the relief, it needs to be accelerated to meet the scale of the challenge. In the months prior, I’ve called upon the government to ensure we have the housing we need; create a well-resourced and efficient planning system; implement a National Retrofit Strategy and embed a clear and effective building safety regime. We will continue to work with the government to further support best practice.    

Finance 

I’m pleased to say we are making great headway in recalibrating the organisation’s finances to get it into the best shape, reduce our operating costs and allocate resources to areas of the business that need it most. Jack Pringle’s Board Bulletin went into more on this, but in summary: the 2020 sale of our commercial arm, NBS, generated significant capital, much of which has been invested in a protected endowment scheme. We have an outstanding team focussing on maximising our investment fund, of over £100m. 

The House of Architecture 

Next, I must highlight our progress on the House of Architecture initiative to undertake some vital improvements to 66 Portland Place. We’ve appointed Benedetti Architects to lead a thorough feasibility study, slated to be complete by the end of January. Portland Place is a stunning building. However, it doesn’t currently meet our aspirations in terms of carbon, accessibility, or inclusion, so a programme of work is vital and long overdue. The House of Architecture project goes beyond the physical building. The RIBA team is working on growing a globalized and digitally accessible programme of events and exhibits, open to members and the public, wherever they are in the world. This includes a plan to bring together our vast world class collection of architectural artifacts, currently in five disparate locations across the UK, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Our intention is that this will result in ever-more changing displays of our world class collections at 66 Portland Place. Our recently appointed Executive Director of Architecture Programmes and Collections Oliver Urquhart Irvine is playing a key role in opening up the institute by creating a new programme of events. Last week, we celebrated the success of the inaugural initiative HomeGrownPlus that we supported by sending architecture students from under-represented backgrounds to New York to learn from the city’s leading practices.  

Other new projects include work to improve member’s access to best practice tools. We plan to publish a new hub page of materials in sections: Running your Business, Promoting your Practice and Managing your Projects. Over time we will grow these resources and fill in the gaps. 

Channel4 broadcasts House of the Year 

As well as the work we do to improve conditions for architects and influence government, I am regularly told the other thing members value is our profile: promoting the work of an architect. One powerful way we achieve this on your behalf is through our media partnerships with major broadcasters. The latest is a four-part TV series on Channel 4 that started earlier in the month. Kevin McCloud and a team of presenters including one of our chartered members – Damion Burrows – are exploring the 20 buildings on the longlist for the 2022 RIBA House of the Year. Every Wednesday at 9pm viewers can enjoy an hour of RIBA members on screen with the final on 7 December. The series will reach audiences in the millions, educating the public and potential clients about what sets an RIBA Chartered Architect apart from the rest. Congratulations to all those featured. And if you want to get yourself on screen next year, please do enter your projects in the awards. Of course, our awards aren’t all for houses or for grand designs. Whatever your budget or location, your projects can be entered. This is the best way to bring your work and practice to the attention of your region and the masses.   

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge that amidst the accomplishments and successes over the past year, there is always more to be done. I’m evermore emboldened by the passion and dedication of our Council, Board, staff, and you our members working collaboratively and cohesively to help make this past year successful.

Very best, 

Simon  

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Memo to Members – Tuesday 1 November

Morning all.

I hope you had a good weekend, and that some of you were able to take a break over half-term. I was pleased to take some time off with my family. As ever the news agenda and RIBA activity have continued! 

So, first-up the appointment of our new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Reacting to the news, I have called on our new PM, to bring reassurance and stability during these tumultuous times. Facing soaring inflation and energy prices alongside housing and climate crises – it will be no mean feat. But, I have urged the Government to remember that buildings are long term assets - critical to our quality of life and wellbeing. And that as architects we stand ready - alongside the wider built environment sector - to work with the Government to create a better future for all. Read my full response here

We have also responded to the Government’s net zero review. Our response highlighted our key sustainability policy positions and called on the government to set operational energy and embodied carbon targets for new buildings, undertake Post Occupancy Evaluations, and tackle energy demand by introducing a National Retrofit Strategy. Read our full response.    

Earlier this month we published the findings from our latest Future Trends report. Surveying a cross section of members on workloads and staffing levels, the index recorded its lowest score (-17), outside of lockdowns, since the great recession of 2009. Looking at the figures our Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson, noted the impact of global issues including the war in Ukraine on the fall in architects’ confidence. Read the full report alongside further expert analysis and guidance from Adrian. 

Looking ahead, at the beginning of November we’ll be opening our latest exhibition Long Life, Low Energy: Designing for a Circular Economy at 66 Portland Place. The exhibition tackles material waste and regenerative construction and will draw on our collections to reveal the nature and recent history of demolition. My hope with this show is to interrogate circular economy principles and conversations around material-use to take us closer to our goal of net zero.   

On this note, I am pleased to also update that alongside other RIBA representatives, I will be heading to Egypt for the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a couple of weeks. I look forward to taking part in fruitful discussions about how we, alongside our global built environment counterparts, can do more to tackle the climate emergency. Updates on our activities will follow.   

More from me on 14 November. 

Best, 

Simon

Memo to Members – Wednesday 19 October

Afternoon all.

Last Thursday marked one of the most anticipated dates in the architectural calendar as we held the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize Party at 66 Portland Place. It was a spectacular evening filled with great company, entertainment, and exciting announcements – which we broadcast via a livestream on our website for the very first time. At the ceremony we looked to the past, paying tribute to RIBA Past President – Marco Goldshmied – recognising his profound contribution to the sector and the RIBA Awards programme. And we also looked to the future - I was delighted to announce the winner of the 26th RIBA Stirling Prize - The New Library, Magdalene College in Cambridge by Níall McLaughlin Architects. Creating a new building that will stand the test of time is a significant challenge, but one that Níall McLaughlin Architects has risen to with the utmost skill, care and responsibility - my congratulations once again to Níall and his team.

On Thursday evening, we also celebrated the winners of our Special Awards. This year's Stephen Lawrence Prize went to The Hackney School of Food by Surman Weston; Neave Brown Award for Housing to Hackney New Primary School and 333 Kingsland Road by Henley Halebrown and Client of the Year to Thornsett Group and the Benyon Estate for the jointly commissioned Hackney New Primary School and 333 Kingsland Road. With all three awards going to projects in the east London borough of Hackney - clients and the council here have clearly prioritised transformation, regeneration, and good community architecture. Well done to all involved.

Of course, we also held our annual People’s Vote – inviting the public to pick their favourite building on the shortlist. The winner of the People’s Vote this year was Hackney New Primary School and 333 Kingsland Road by Henley Halebrown - congratulations! I’d like to extend my utmost gratitude and thanks to the nominees, jury, and everyone involved in making this year’s awards celebration so memorable.

Now – for a quick note on some of our policy work. Last week we responded to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities consultation on implementing the new building control regime for higher-risk buildings and wider changes to the building regulations for all buildings. Our response aims to bolster the policy aims of the Government and ensure the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt effect real change within the construction industry, both at a regulatory and behavioural level. Read our full response here. We have also been closely following the Government’s fiscal announcements – responding both to the announcement that the rise to corporation tax will go ahead and also to the Chancellor’s commitment to incentivise energy efficiency improvements. We will continue to monitor the Government’s economic plans and assess their impact on the sector.

As you will be aware, ARB has been given new powers to monitor the training and development architects carry out throughout their careers. ARB are currently consulting on the scheme before it is finalised and introduced. Draft guidance has been published, so that architects can review the requirements and understand what will be asked of them. We urge you to respond to the consultation and if you have any questions, you can join a live Q&A session at midday on Wednesday 26 October. Please register here if interested.

Once again, many congratulations to Stirling winners and everyone for a wonderful, celebratory evening.

More from me on 31 October.

Best,

Simon

Memo to Members – Wednesday 5 October

Morning all.

I want to begin this week’s column by welcoming Black History Month – a time for us at RIBA to consider and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black professionals in the built environment. This October, we will be sharing previously untold stories from our collections, as well as looking to the future, with a note from RIBA’s President Elect, Muyiwa Oki.

I have been reacting and responding to quite a few things over the past two weeks – the Architects’ Journal’s student survey, the ARB’s latest consultation on CPD, Kwasi Kwarteng’s first mini budget (or otherwise known as the ‘Growth Plan 2022’) and the government’s introduction of sanctions on architectural services in Russia.

The AJ’s student survey findings made for uncomfortable reading and reconfirmed the reality of the pressure and stresses that architectural students face. They paint a picture of financial hardship, with many students undertaking part time work to support rising living and studying costs and still accruing significant debts. Findings that indicate students from underrepresented groups seem to be working longer hours each week remains a big concern – and supports what we already know about barriers to entry and attrition rates.

Strong interest in apprenticeships highlights the urgency of developing alternative routes into the profession. More affordable, flexible routes to becoming an architect will help ensure that students with the aspiration to join the profession can make positive choices and feel both encouraged and able to qualify. Indeed, on-the-job training could also help to address the education-to-practice knowledge gap, meaning that 'earn and learn' becomes both a financially and educationally attractive and successful pathway. We know we have to improve access to the profession, which is why we will continue working with the ARB to lobby for new, alternative models of education that break down barriers to entry.

Last week, the ARB also launched a consultation on its draft scheme for enhancing CPD. Our fundamental concern is that any proposals bolster rather than duplicate RIBA’s existing, established programme and uphold competency standards. We will be responding, and urge you to do the same. It’s really important that reforms reflect and cater to the practical needs of the profession whilst instilling confidence in the wider sector and public.

In addition to responding to the new government’s mini budget (which disappointingly lacked any provision for long term energy efficiency improvements), we welcomed a significant rise to the Real Living Wage, which will apply to all Chartered Practice employees.

We’ve also been attending Party Conferences. In Liverpool, we hosted an event with CIOB, RICS, and RTPI featuring Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey and Salford City Council’s Mayor, Paul Dennett. The discussion focused on what sustainable development looks like. The team are also currently returning from Birmingham’s Conservative Party Conference where we took part in a panel discussion on the correlation between ‘levelling up’ and ‘building better’ with representatives from the CIOB, RICS, RTPI, and RIBA’s Jack Pringle.

Finally, I want to end this week’s note by paying tribute to Sam Webb. For over 50 years, Sam dedicated his working life to improving the safety of our built environment. His investigation into the structural collapse of Ronan Point in 1968 started a career campaigning for regulatory change. As one of the country’s most knowledgeable specialists in this field, he shared his expertise generously with others, from construction professionals to government panels and members of the public too. His lifelong dedication to building safety has, and will continue to, save lives. Having had the pleasure of knowing him for many years and working with him on Council, I share my deepest condolences with his family, friends, and all who knew him.

More from me (post-Stirling) on 17 October.

Best,

Simon

Memo to Members – Tuesday 20 September

Afternoon all.

I write this column having represented RIBA at the funeral of our Patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. It felt like a large family funeral; an extraordinarily well choreographed historical event played out in front of the world. London provided a magnificent backdrop of buildings and people – a valuable record of 21st Century life. As our Patron, Her Majesty offered unwavering support during her seven decades on the throne, and her steady influence and calm assured presence has been a vital constant for our profession. You can read my full tribute here.

In the same moment we witnessed her passing, we also welcomed a new King – Charles III – a Royal who has perhaps demonstrated the most interest in our built environment. Not without controversy. But that debate is something to welcome. Throughout his life and work, most notably with the Prince’s Foundation, Charles has been a strong advocate for environmental conservation, and long-championed architecture that puts community and sustainability at its heart. We wish His Majesty a long, successful and happy reign, and look forward to engaging wherever possible to realise our shared goal: to build a well-designed low carbon future.

As you may have noticed, we made the decision to pause external communications during the period of National Mourning, but last week we felt it crucial to mark what would have been Stephen Lawrence’s 48th birthday. Nearly thirty years on from the day that Stephen tragically murdered, many forms of discrimination continue to create barriers that prevent talented individuals from building careers in architecture. We all have a responsibility to break them down and become better allies. You can read more about that here.

Moving on to our awards now. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the six projects shortlisted for this year’s Stirling Prize. It was a busy week as Kirsten Lees, Chris Ofili Smith, Glenn Howells, Smith Mordak (sustainability advisor) and myself as Chair, supported by the hardworking RIBA Awards team, travelled to Scotland, Cambridge and around our Capital. We were all struck by the commitment of clients, architects and design teams to firstly design and construct these buildings and, ever more importantly, to bring them to life in use: life starts when architecture finishes. Or perhaps I should write architecture comes to life in use. The winner will be announced very soon on 13 October. You can find out more about the schedule for the evening and book your place here.

Finally, following a detailed review, today we announced a 7.5% fee rise for Members for 2023. As we all know, in both personal and professional circumstances, the prices we’re paying for services and material goods are rising rapidly. As a membership body and business with an annual operational deficit to eradicate, RIBA is no exception. This decision follows much discussion and negotiation, and keeps fees as low as possible, while ensuring RIBA can continue to deliver the services and support that you need. Free membership for students, and reductions for those facing financial hardship, on lower incomes and retired architects will continue – and all Members will receive an email over the coming weeks with detailed breakdown of your specific 2023 fee. You can find out more about the changes here.

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions. I want to ensure this weekly note is useful, relevant and focusses on the issues that matter to you. More from me on 3 October.

Best,

Simon

Memo to Members – Monday 5 September

Morning all.

Welcome to September and the start of our 2022-23 session.

At RIBA we’re ready to hit the ground running, with a busy few months of activities and events lined up. But before I get into that, I’m sure you will all join me in congratulating Muyiwa Oki who was elected back in August as the next RIBA President. Muyiwa led a commendable campaign with an electoral manifesto focused on the future of the profession – I’m delighted for his win and look forward to working together closely until I hand over next year. Find out more about all of our new Council Member representatives and recently recruited Board Committee Members.

Now – let’s turn to the autumn programme of cultural events. Our VitrA talk series continues on 8 and 26 September with talks on urban regeneration and rethinking hospital design; on 10 September we’ll be opening up 66 Portland Place as part of Open House 2022; and on 12 September we’ll be hosting the inaugural RIBA + Grimshaw Foundation Annual Art Lecture, delivered by Sir Antony Gormley. We’re also hosting two Stirling Stories events exploring this year’s shortlist in London and Leeds. Please keep an eye on our What’s On page and join where you can.

We’re also getting closer and closer to the actual 2022 Stirling Prize, with our party taking place on 13 October at 66 Portland Place. It’s set to be a spectacular evening of live performances and celebration and, with several different ticketing options, there’s something for everyone. Find out more and book your place.

Now onto our policy work. Later this month we’ll be attending both the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences. Hosting panel discussions alongside other built environment partners, we'll be discussing why and how government and local leaders can utilise industry expertise to enable and empower growth and development in communities. We’ll be sharing details about how you can get involved soon.

Today we’re also of course welcoming a new Prime Minister to 10 Downing Street. As people grapple with surging energy prices prompting major fears about heating homes this winter, Liz Truss has a colossal task on her hands. We’ll be engaging immediately. Read my reaction.

We’ve been engaging with government at all levels and recently hosted a meeting with architects – many of whom are RIBA Members – who are working within government departments. As part of our work to support their initiatives and research, we’re currently seeking your best practice examples of inclusive design – visual, photographic, and diagrammatic examples that can be used as illustrative cameos. Do you have something we can pass on? Please email public.affairs@riba.org.

Finally, a few deadline reminders. Our survey on PII market conditions will close on Wednesday 7 September. Your insights are critical to the success of our cross-industry project to enhance the availability and breadth of cover and to make premiums appropriate and affordable. You also still have a few days to send your 2023 Royal Gold Medal nominations. Who deserves to be recognised for this lifetime achievement? You have until Friday 9 September to submit.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back with my next update on 19 September. In the meantime, as ever, please leave me feedback and questions. I want to ensure this weekly note is useful and relevant – and focusses on the issues that matter to you.

Best,

Simon

Memo to Members – Monday 18 July

Afternoon all.

I want to begin this week’s Memo by paying tribute to a good friend and former President, Marco Goldschmied, who sadly passed away on 7 July. I recently re-read Marco’s RIBA election priorities of almost 25 years ago: a promise to shake-up architecture, raise professional standards and the profile of the profession, as well as a campaign for a radical revision of the planning process. He achieved a considerable amount, much of which remains valid today. I last saw him at his home where we spoke of the challenges ahead. In particular of PII (on which he did much of the recent groundwork to shape our own project) and of his ideas to support the next generation and construct new ways into architecture. Marco was always generous with his time. My thoughts are with all those who knew him.

Marco really cared about supporting architects and the profession, and the role of RIBA. It therefore seemed somewhat fitting that on the 8 July I joined the long-awaited Members Forum at 66 Portland Place – a timely opportunity to speak to representatives from across our global membership. It gave me an opportunity to explain some of RIBA’s recent business decisions – as part of the transformation programme – from properties to staff structures.

One topic of conversation was the essential refurbishment of our leaky and inaccessible long-term home, 66 Portland Place – our physical House of Architecture. Right now, the building’s expensive and inefficient to run, it doesn’t meet accessibility standards or our EDI values and it doesn’t provide the digital capability we need to ensure we can fully connect with our global membership. We need to get it into much better shape so that it performs well for our members, staff, volunteers and clients. I will keep you updated on progress – a feasibility study (to see what’s possible) should be complete by the end of the year.

Talking of the House of Architecture programme, last week RIBA appointed Oliver Urquhart Irvine as Executive Director, Architecture Programmes and Collections – completing the RIBA’s new Executive team. In addition to RIBA Awards, Oliver will be the House of Architecture programme lead, curating the events, exhibitions, and partnerships planned for 2022 and beyond. Oliver will also be helping to progress plans to unify our currently dispersed world-class Collections, which are currently stored within five different locations across the UK. This will involve scoping a new facility to fulfil future storage requirements, allow us to attract and accept new offers, and enable the Collections to be used and appreciated more easily by wider audiences – both physically and online. Watch this space.

Speaking of RIBA Awards, following last week’s House of the Year announcement, on Thursday we will learn of the six buildings shortlisted for the 2022 Stirling Prize, alongside the shortlists for the Stephen Lawrence Prize and Neave Brown Award for Housing. It’s one of the most exciting dates in the architecture calendar – I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s on the list.

A few reminders to end on. Firstly – please remember to vote in this year’s elections by 26 July. As I’ve said before, choosing your representatives is the most important way in which you can shape RIBA. You should have all received a unique link to vote via the CES platform to have your say, please contact elections@riba.org with any issues. The results will be announced on 2 August. Secondly – I urge you all to respond to our survey on PII market conditions. Your insights are critical to the success of our cross-industry project, which aims to promote improved levels of professional and regulatory confidence in a manner that is attractive to the PII market, enhance the availability and breadth of cover, and realign premiums at an appropriate and affordable level for members and their practices. It’s a top priority.

This will be my final Memo ahead of the summer break. As we rush to tie up business and (hopefully) take some time away, I want to wish you all well and thank you for your continued support. I look forward to resuming these updates as we begin the new session in September with new representatives on board. Exciting times ahead.

Best wishes,

Simon

Memo to Members – Monday 4 July

Morning all.

I’ve decided to make these notes fortnightly before the summer break – so here’s an update on activity since we last spoke on 20 June.

From 21 to 24 June, Azlina Bulmer (Director of International) and I attended the AIA annual Conference on Architecture in Chicago. The three day event provided an opportunity to meet all the presidents of the world’s professional architectural institutions and associations. I spoke of our plans for the House of Architecture – as a host to debate: an Institute of Ideas. Which was well received. We also agreed to work with the UIA to develop a shared action plan to address the vital topic of climate change. I look forward to continuing conversations and developing actions. It was also a useful reminder of our institute’s significant potential to hear how other organisations and individuals around the world hold the RIBA in such high esteem – as a force for good and a driver of change. A key highlight for me was a conversation with Barack Obama (though somewhat distant as it was conducted by the AIA President in front of an audience of 5,000). Chicago is a favourite city that I have visited many times, so I punctuated events with long runs alongside Lake Michigan, with detours to Mies’ Lake Shore Drive and other icons of mid-century modernism.

Council met last Tuesday and discussed a packed agenda, from RIBA’s new Education Code of Conduct for validated schools to future membership fees. My report focussed on the new Biennial Action Plan, which outlines ten clear priorities (underpinned with 52 actions) for the two years. From balancing the budget to cutting carbon, to seeking solutions to the PII crisis, the priorities will enable RIBA to focus its outputs and deliver on the ultimate objective of the 2034 Masterplan: to educate and support architects, to promote architecture and to celebrate excellence. It’s in its final stages of development and will be published soon. I’ll be writing about it for my next RIBAJ column at the end of the month. It was a critical and productive meeting where we had time to discuss the significant work of Council’s Task and Finish Groups, which are taking on both the obvious and less obvious but equally critical issues of the day. I look forward to welcoming both new and returning faces to Council post-election – as part of the vital democratic churn that ensures our relevance. I also hope for more of the above essential action and ever less time spent on what Past President Alex Gordon referred to as the ‘irrelevance of the RIBA’s petty internal squabble’. 

 On the topic of  PII andCouncil-led initiatives, plans to embark on a Professional Risk and PII Market Review, supported by insurance industry experts, were announced last week. This will be led by Jennifer Dixon, as PII Task & Finish Group Chair. The full study will examine a range of measures to improve access to cover, from standardisation of PII proposal forms and policy wording, to enhanced professional risk management techniques. While the ARB has proposed some welcome adjustments to support the profession in the short term (read our response to their consultation) we urgently require solutions to better manage professional design liability and make cover easier to obtain. A survey of members’ experiences marks the first step – and I urge you all to take part before 24 July.  

 Following Council, later that evening, I popped upstairs to chair the Building Stories talk on the sixth floor. Here a packed room listened to the tales of Clerkenwell Close – a story of collaboration between architect and client (interestingly Amin Taha was both) as well as engineer, stone mason, and resident. The evening was full of insights into architecture, carbon, construction, and urban design – as well as the joys and occasional inconveniences of living there.

On Wednesday evening, I was back at 66 Portland Place introducing Nigel Coates to a packed Jarvis Hall audience wanting to hear about his book. Lives in Architecture: Nigel Coates – published by RIBA – is a wonderfully generous journey: a tale of his life, of friendships, of relationships, of collaborations in life, in art, in education, and in practice. NATO (Narrative Architecture Today) was an important critical force – and Nigel clarified that his interest has always been about encouraging members of all sorts of communities to take over the buildings and spaces that he has helped launch. His is a journey that crisscrosses from Malvern to Nottingham, London, Florence, Tokyo, and beyond. A story of drawing, fashion, nightclubs, music, food, study, and reflection as well as the making of architecture at all scales (to Nigel furniture and product design are just small architecture). Unusually it is also very a good read. As I noted, Nigel is every inch an ‘architect’ though he has not yet got his Part 3. It’s something RIBA needs to work on – reconnecting with those who have not ticked all the boxes – the architectural diaspora! Importantly as with ever more events both of these were filmed and will be available first to members and then the wider public online – at the digital House of Architecture. 

As London’s streets were filled with LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations on Saturday (where members walked alongside Architecture LGBT+ and LFA representatives) another RIBA publication, Queer Spaces – edited by Adam Nathaniel-Furman and Joshua Mardell – was also appropriately launched last week. I have yet to read it but I have scanned the reviews and will add it to my summer reading list.

Finally last week, on Thursday I had the pleasure of joining a panel chaired by Lord Foster to select the recipient of this year’s travelling scholarship, which will be announced soon. We were all struck by the depth, breadth, and quality of the 40+ submissions. Travel is a great educator. And the prize itself is a great example of the RIBA acting as host, collector, and connector. Harnessing the energy, talent, and goodwill of our members. 

Looking ahead to this week, we’ll be hosting the annual Members Forum at 66 Portland Place on Friday. I’m really looking forward to hearing from our regional representatives, discussing planning and carbon, and finding out more about branch achievements and celebrations. I’ll update in my next memo. The 20 homes vying to be crowned RIBA House of the Year 2022 will also be announced on Sunday ahead of the four-part Channel 4 series later this year. 

Lastly, I urge you all to cast your vote. Voting opened for the 2022 Presidential and Council elections on Tuesday 28 June and will close at 5pm on 26 July. This is one of the most important ways you can shape RIBA – please make sure you have your say. We have six contested Council seats this year – two National, two Regional (East), and two Student. Here’s the link to the Civica voting platform.  

More from me on 18 July.  

Best wishes,  

Simon 

Memo to Members – Monday 20 June

Hello.  

I hope you had a good weekend.   

First up this week – elections. This year’s process for electing your new representatives is now well underway. Candidates for all positions were announced earlier today, and the first hustings event will take place tomorrow. I urge you all to engage. Find out more about the candidates, register for hustings (24 hours before) and, most importantly, make sure you vote on 28 June.   

Now, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the celebration held last week for our 2022 Royal Gold Medallist, acclaimed Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi. Following my two day whirlwind trip to India in May to present the medal to Mr Doshi in person, last week we celebrated his achievements with a virtual event linking us here at 66 Portland Place, London with Doshi’s studio in Ahmedabad, India, and a global online audience of 400 viewers. The event featured tributes from architects around the world, including Frank Gehry, Álvaro Siza, and Benedetta Tagliabue; a discussion about his extraordinary life and philosophy, and an audience Q&A. It was really special – watch the recording of the Royal Gold Medal ceremony.

Looking ahead to this week. On Thursday we’ll be announcing the 2022 RIBA National Award winners – an outstanding cohort of buildings that push boundaries and set new benchmarks for architecture worldwide. I hope practices find time to celebrate their achievements, I send massive congratulations to you all.    

A brief section on RIBA business. Board met last week to talk planning and strategy, and Council will be meeting on 28 June. I look forward to sharing the developed iteration of RIBA's Biennial Plan – a clear set of priorities and activities that will enable us to deliver on the overarching vision: to educate and support architects, to promote architecture, and to celebrate excellence. I anticipate this will be within the next few weeks. I also wanted to direct you to a new, dynamic page outlining key elements of the transformation programme. I am often asked what RIBA means by ‘transformation’ and why decisions are being made – this should help to answer some of those questions.   

Finally, a reminder to explore the RIBA Business and career resilience hub. Requested by members, this new digital hub details relevant resources around business resilience that can be applied in your practice and in your career. New content, events, and resources will be added when commissioned.  

That’s all for now. As we enter the summer months and summer holidays begin, we’ll be making these updates fortnightly. I look forward to catching up with you next on the 4 July.  

As ever, please leave me feedback and questions. I want to ensure this weekly note is useful and relevant – and focusses on the issues that matter to you.  

Best wishes,   

Simon  

Memo to Members – Monday 13 June

Hello all.   

I wanted to start this week’s memo by reflecting on tomorrow’s anniversary: it’s been five years since we witnessed the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower where 72 people tragically lost their lives. It was a day that none of us will forget and one that has prompted long-overdue changes to our building safety regime and the way we practice as architects – for the better. What’s the fundamental lesson I take from Grenfell? We all have a responsibility to better understand the construction of our designs, and the process of realising our ideas. I’m well aware that huge expectations are being placed on construction, and architects specifically, meaning support will be critical. Over the coming months, RIBA will be providing appropriate guidance and helping ensure architects have the skills required to fulfil the Principal Designer role.   

Like many of you, I have read UCL's report on the Bartlett. The report has been widely commented on, both by the school and the wider architectural community. Every educator and education provider has a duty to support the wellbeing and safety of their students, as well as their academic development, and have effective mechanisms in place to eradicate unacceptable behaviour. Like other creative disciplines, architecture education relies upon critical appraisal of students’ work, but this needs to be properly managed. We've all got to pull together to bring about a culture change. You can read my response, which also notes RIBA's current work to explore a new Education Code of Conduct for validated institutions, similar to the RIBA Code of Practice for Chartered Practices. 

This week we’re also hosting a roundtable with our Corporate Members – an opportunity to engage with individual practitioners and find out what matters to them, right now. It’s all part of RIBA’s aim to refine its membership offer, to ensure it provides (at every level) the guidance and tools practices need – think “practice in a box”. Today we see the launch of the RIBA Business and Career Resilience hub, something requested by members via our VP Membership. It details relevant resources around business resilience that can be applied in your practice and in your career and will be updated as, and when, new content is commissioned.    

I am also meeting with RIBA’s Interim Director for Education, Jenny Russell, RIBA’s Trustee for Education Sumita Singha, Chair of RIBA Board and former VP Education, Jack Pringle, and others this week to talk about plans for an upcoming event on rethinking future models of education. I read the findings of the ARB’s survey on the topic last week with interest, as I hope many of you did too. As I stressed in my initial response, the transformation and modernisation of architectural education, including more flexible, accessible, and inclusive study routes with a focus on competence and sustainability will help us attract the best talent and support a more representative profession. Flexibility and affordability must be our shared focus. I’ll be writing about this in my next RIBAJ column – landing at the beginning of July.    

A couple of reminders to end on:    

The deadline to apply for a seat on Council or to become the next RSAW or RIBA President is 5pm tomorrow. Please do consider putting yourself forward. The first hustings for RIBA President will take place at 1pm GMT on Tuesday 21 June and you’ll need to register 24 hours before.   

On Wednesday at 1pm GMT, we’ll be hosting our online Royal Gold Medal ceremony from London, United Kindgom and Ahmedabad, India to celebrate 2022 Royal Gold Medallist, Balkrishna Doshi. This event is free.    

The consultation on the ARB’s proposed revisions to Professional Indemnity insurance requirements closes on 4 July – we’ll be responding, and we urge you to do the same. While revisions are critical to enable us to move forward as an industry, we must get it right, or else we risk forcing smaller practices into closure or moving to the unregulated sector.   

Please leave me feedback and questions. I want to ensure this weekly note is useful and relevant – and focusses on the issues that matter to you.   

Best wishes, 

Simon 

Memo to Members – Tuesday 7 June

Hello.   

I hope you enjoyed the long weekend.   

Thanks for the feedback on my previous posts – please keep it coming. The aim is to share what is going on, in and around the RIBA and what I am focussing on.   

Firstly this week, I want to touch on plans for the RIBA Collections. As many of you know, this world class collection of over four million books, journals, photographs, drawings, archives, models, and other objects is currently stored in several locations: 66 Portland Place, 76 Portland Place, the Piper Centre, Victoria & Albert Museum, and in a commercial store in Upper Heyford. Not only does this mean our material is somewhat inconveniently dispersed, but current storage facilities are fast becoming too small to house and showcase future donations.    

Reuniting the collections in a long term home and improving how they are accessed and displayed remains central to the long term House of Architecture vision. From school groups to researchers – our members and the public from across the globe must be able to benefit and seek enjoyment from the RIBA’s growing asset both physically and digitally.    

This week’s ‘news,’ so to speak, is therefore about the RIBA’s and V&A’s mutually agreed decision to end our V&A+RIBA Architecture partnership. The RIBA will seek a new facility where access and presentation of the collections can be improved. I want to take this moment to personally thank the V&A – RIBA’s partners for over 20 years – for their collective passion and drive to support architecture. Both institutions have so much to offer and it’s our shared ambition to continue to collaborate in new ways in the future.    

Now, refocusing on this week’s agenda.   

Yesterday, I attended a roundtable with Minister Lee Rowley at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). We spoke about hindrances to productivity including how businesses often think in the short rather than long term about investment or innovation. If we have less investment, it’s not surprising we have lower rates of productivity. One question became clear: how can we incentivise businesses to improve productivity? The solutions? Suggestions ranged from setting up a productivity commission on statutory footing, to promoting the sharing of best practice and knowledge among SMEs, to providing government-backed business advice. My own preference is for a Business Improvement Cluster – a different take on the successful BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) There is clearly more work to do in this area and we will continue to work with government to drive these ideas forward – watch this space.  

I’m also really looking forward to hosting the latest Building Stories: The Awards Talks event tonight, where I’ll be speaking with the architects behind two of the 2021 Stirling shortlisted projects, Windermere Jetty Museum in the Lake District and Key Worker Housing in Eddington, Cambridge. This particular session will be held in-person from 6pm at 66 Portland Place – do join us if you can.   

Looking ahead to next week, Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – a particularly prominent anniversary given where we are with changes to the building safety system. Further changes to the Building Regulations announced by the DLUHC last week include mandatory Evacuation Alert Systems in new residential buildings above 18m and new statutory guidance to restrict the combustibility of materials used in and on the external walls of those between 11 to 18m in height. While these changes must be broadly welcomed, they still don’t represent the comprehensive review of Approved Document B for which RIBA’s been long calling for. As we approach another anniversary of the tragedy, we continue to call for clarity: we must end the broad range of interpretations to meeting fire safety regulations.  

A couple of reminders to end with. On Wednesday next week, I will be hosting the 2022 Royal Gold Medal online celebration, live from Ahmedabad, India and London. We’ll be celebrating renowned architect Balkrishna Doshi, through awarding him the 2022 Royal Gold Medal and speaking directly with him about his lifetime achievements and his philosophy on architecture. The event is free to attend and open to all, so please do join us.  

RIBA is also celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride throughout June – highlighting the work of LGBTQ+ communities, sharing allyship guidance and resources and spotlighting Pride events.   

Finally, don’t forget to submit your application for Council seats and/or Presidency by 5pm next Tuesday, 14 June. RIBA needs you.    

Very best 

Simon  

Memo to Members – Monday 30 May

Good afternoon – hope you had a great weekend. 

This is the second in a new series of short updates – from my desktop to yours. I note as you read this, I am on a half term break with my family. So, I’ll share what I have been focusing on recently, and highlights from the RIBA’s agenda right now. 

Last week I joined this year’s Regional Award winners at a special event to celebrate their achievements and announce each region's Building of the Year. Winning a RIBA Award is a major accomplishment – it has definitely been one of my own career highlights – and I was seriously impressed by the talent on show in this year’s selection. Visited by expert juries when the buildings are in use, our awards programme sets the standard for the sector – my congratulations to everyone involved. The winning projects are now being considered for the RIBA National Awards - to be announced next month.  

Last week I also responded to the Environmental Audit Committee’s latest report - Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction. The RIBA participated in the committee's call for evidence, and we were pleased to see that our key recommendations on embodied carbon have been adopted – a crucial area where the government’s policies on sustainability in the built environment have, to date fallen short. We will continue to work with government and the wider construction industry, to I hope, implement and deliver these recommendations.  

I’ve also been continuing to meet with members from around the globe. Last week I met with members from Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. These discussions offer brilliant insights into how RIBA can best support and promote the work of members wherever they work or live. And lots of suggestions and ideas are emerging. 

I also met again with Past-President Marco Goldschmied. Marco is always super generous on many fronts. As many of you will know he has most recently done a lot of hard work and smart thinking on PII. Indeed he introduced me to the key advisors and thinkers who are helping us construct a new approach to the PII challenge.  

Up next: RIBA Elections. The nomination window for potential candidates to stand for election opens tomorrow. As someone who stood on the sidelines before getting stuck in, I highly recommend putting yourself forward for a seat on RIBA Council or to become the next RSAW President or RIBA President. Key to the institute's success is ensuring that people with a range of backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets are contributing and getting involved. Whether you stand or not, please do vote when the time comes (reminders will be sent). RIBA is a democratic institute – and by taking part in the elections, you can help shape the organisation you want to see. 

As I mentioned in my last update, the institute’s transformation continues at pace - not least in terms of making best use of our property assets. This is all part of work to reduce our annual deficit and make sure we are investing our resources where they are of greatest benefit to members. This week we have been progressing with our plans to sell 76 Portland Place, and reviewing the storage of our ever growing world class architectural collections and archives. 

In a major development for our HQ at 66 Portland Place, we officially appointed Benedetti Architects last week to lead the project to modernise and transform our building into a thriving and accessible House of Architecture. I’m asked why we are investing in this building, when we are also facing financial challenges. 66 Portland Place is our long term home and, under the terms of the lease, an asset we cannot sell. To be frank, it’s underperforming – decaying, leaky, and inaccessible – and urgently needs some work to bring it up to scratch. As a membership body that exists to promote excellence in architecture for the benefit of the profession and the public, our house needs to be in order. The next step is to build on our brief (to create an exemplary low carbon, inclusive space for debate and inspiration) taking on board all the feedback received so far and engaging smaller practices to assist with specific aspects. The vision for the House of Architecture spans beyond the London building. While 66 Portland Place will often play host, we will also have a developing programme of engaging, audience-focussed exhibitions and events, delivered both physically and digitally, for all those with an interest in our work.   

That brings me on to John Harris, a former RIBA Curator who sadly passed away earlier this month. You may have seen his obituary in the national media. It was under John’s expert guardianship that our architectural collection – our greatest asset – grew into one of the world's finest. My thoughts are with his family and all those who knew and worked with him. I believe he would have been a supporter of RIBA’s House of Architecture – getting even more people to engage with our archives.   

Finally, I wish you all a restful bank holiday weekend when it comes. If you are celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, keep an eye on RIBA’s Twitter and Instagram, where our RIBA Collections team will be sharing some beautiful original illustrations of the street decorations designed for the Queen’s coronation in 1952 by British architect Sir Hugh Casson.   

Please leave me your questions – I want to make sure these updates focus on the things that matter to you. 

Best wishes, 

Simon 

Memo to Members – Monday 23 May

Hello. I thought a short and regular update about what I’ve been doing and what’s happening in and around RIBA might be a good thing to share. So, by no means exhaustive and in no particular order, here’s my first instalment.

PII is top of the list for many architects and it’s a key priority for me too. RIBA has a group working hard on this, led by Jennifer Dixon, architect, Council, and Board member. The group is developing a radical idea on risk management, linking competence to dispute resolution mechanisms which we think could really help – I’ll update more as soon as things develop. On the same topic, last week the ARB announced proposed changes to insurance requirements for architects (read my initial response). We know that not all practices can secure limited fire safety cover at present so we will be responding to the consultation by 4 July and I urge you to respond directly too. If you want to join a conversation with other members about this, log in to the Member Hub. If you haven’t signed up to a discussion forum yet – now’s a good time.

EDI, including widening access to the profession, is a central focus for RIBA. Last week I met with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to talk of plans for the future regulation of the profession. Widening access to the profession and enhancing competence were key themes, and we expressed our strong desire to help lead architectural education reforms to allow more flexible study structures that support better access and inclusion. Apprenticeships and the disruptor courses can sit alongside the more traditional models of learning – offering people more affordable but equally relevant pathways into the profession. Next steps: we’ll be promoting such change through our engagement with the ARB on its Review of Initial Education and Training. I’ve also heard from lots of members who are already running various outreach access courses and engaging the next generation in primary and secondary schools. Moving ahead, RIBA can help share and support these initiatives – we have a Council-led group looking at this.

I also wanted to touch on RIBA’s transformation. When I stood for election as RIBA President, I was clear that the RIBA needed to be leaner, more agile, and more member focused. Well, I’m pleased to say that we are well on our way. The corporate team restructure is almost complete and we're in the process of reducing the property footprint – all to help get the annual deficit down from £8m to zero – a target that’s firmly in sight. This financial challenge sits equal to the overarching strategy to harness the diverse skills and talents of engaged members and support you in what you do. I’ll update you with key developments.

Coming up: we have a busy few weeks ahead. We’ll be kicking off Pride month celebrations tonight with a discussion on our recently published Queer Spaces book. Join us in person at 66 Portland Place.

Tomorrow architects, clients, consultants, and contractors will be celebrating the Regional Awards – see full coverage of the awards in RIBAJ. I’m looking forward to meeting many of you then. This is a key moment in the sun for many practices, particularly up and coming firms who have maybe never won an award before. The media love to cover these projects and clients appreciate the kudos and exposure too. Plus we get to show the public, decision makers, and potential new clients of architecture why using architects and commissioning great architecture is so very important. Hats off to everyone.

I’m currently delivering a (virtual) talk series for members around the world. Following conversations with members in the Middle East and China, I’ll be speaking to members in the USA and Australasia this week. This is a real highlight of my role – connecting and learning from colleagues in our global community.

Speaking of which, I’ve just returned from the UIA Forum in Madrid, following a flying visit last week to India to present Balkrishna Doshi with the 2022 Royal Gold Medal. Mr. Doshi was unable to travel to London to receive the honour, so the medal (and I) went to him. We’ll be formally celebrating his achievement next month – register now for the online ceremony. The Madrid event was a RIBA International-led contribution to the UIA Forum: a hybrid event titled Affordable Housing - Mismatch. It featured ten speakers from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and South America talking of designing, building, living in, and regulating housing. A reminder as Balkrishna Doshi advised that architecture begins only when life takes over – and that’s a good thing to remember.

More from me next week. Please let me know if there is something you would like to hear about specifically.

Best wishes,

Simon

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